Who’s looking in the mirror? Part II
This is the second and final part of a two-part series which examines the current state of Bahamian politics and makes suggestions for what is required for the future political and socio-economic development of The Bahamas and the Bahamian people. In Part I, we examined the state of our current political leadership and the need for new dynamic visionary leadership.
A vision for the future
A compelling argument can be made that The Bahamas has not really had a progressive agenda since the 1980s. We have been on a singular path to economic development: foreign intervention by an investor directed at the tourist sector and real estate sales. This has led to a narrowed path to development. Both the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and the Free National Movement (FNM), under Christie and Ingraham, have not sought to craft a meaningful policy so as to lead to the Bahamianization of the economy. Christie as prime minister often boasted about the billions of dollars that were attracted to the country during his single term. This was the clearest sign that his ideology was grounded in a view of the country that the economy could only be expanded by the foreign ‘savior’. His philosophy was identical to that of Ingraham, who is able to take credit for the rejuvenation of the tourism sector when Sol Kerzner came off the plane and transformed the Paradise Island plant. No one can honestly criticize the brilliance of Kerzner and his long-term impact on the national tourism product.
In the midst of our economic successes (limitedly defined by the provision of meager paying jobs) there has been no public recognition for the gifts that are housed in the Bahamian soul; of industry, hard work, creativity and a unique spirit to withstand poverty and economic downturns. Yet, there are those who wear red, gold and now green, who in their quiet moments, dream of a better Bahamas. This dream is centered on a better life and a larger share of the economic pie.
In the recent PLP mini-convention on the economy, I was shocked that no substantive talk was centered on the expansion of the economy to allow for greater Bahamian participation. No talk of economic diversification with the attendant specific plans. No promise of a LNG industry with the introduction of stiff regulations. Not a whisper of oil exploration and the introduction of the comprehensive regulatory laws. No promise to establish a Ministry of National Development to ensure that within a specific targeted period that there will be a deliberate push to create an expanded entrepreneurial base. Not even a whisper for the need, a national imperative, to craft a policy to guarantee the ownership by Bahamians of banks and hotels and major businesses. So for me, there was a deep sense of disappointment and a confirmation that there still remains today a profound lack of vision in framing a progressive statement by the PLP, as many would expect. The PLP is expected to be the premier champion of an agenda that has at its core the principles of shared-prosperity amongst the citizenry. This event was for me a startling confirmation that the PLP today, some months from a general election, still lacks a vision for the future (perhaps other than Urban Renewal 2.0).
Our future – what about crime?
In my discussions with many young and middle-aged Bahamians I sense a growing frustration about what they perceive the future will bring. Many have fears of crime and the increasing criminality, yet they know that both parties are guilty of playing politics with crime, blaming each other and demanding the then sitting minister to resign. It was then Deputy Prime Minister Cynthia Pratt in 2002-2007; and now Minister Tommy Turnquest has had to face the same silly and naive onslaught. Sensible Bahamians know that no politician can fix the crime issue. And those same Bahamians know that Urban Renewal (whether 1.0 or 2.0), the stellar PLP solution, is not the panacea for crime. The truth is that the FNM’s and the PLP’s so-called solutions for crime are similar in that they are both predominantly focused on the aftermath of crime – that is, the steps to catch the criminal and keep him locked away for years. No politician and no leader have addressed the question about the lack of assimilation by the majority of Bahamians of Haitian lineage; and they have been deathly silent on the effects and frustrations of those who are stateless. And what about the fact that too many young Bahamians have no path and no interest in playing a meaningful role in the mainstay economy.
Too, we must recognize that we are reaping the effects of the drug culture, the get rich fast and easy culture.
No plan has addressed the systematic challenges that increased poverty has brought on for far too many families, some due to the fact that they are single parent homes, underpayment of salaries and a lack of educational opportunities for mobility. On the latter, I have been so disappointed in the PLP by the fact that we kept in place a loan scholarship program which is a failure of the realities that there are still far too many Bahamians who cannot afford a tertiary or post graduate education. I know that I would not have earned two degrees without the bonded scholarship scheme. The PLP has betrayed its philosophy on this (and other) issue(s).
Many too have a deepening frustration about the state of the educational system and the high percentage of those who still graduate without being able to read, write or do basic arithmetic. Perry Christie has promised to double the national budget’s contribution to education. He has on two separate occasions failed to explain where he is going to increase the nation’s revenue stream to make this promise a reality. He has also failed to explain to the public how the money will be spent and what will be the measurable and attainable goals. He has not said that the school year and days will be extended. He has not promised to increase the salaries of teachers to encourage an expansion in the local talent pool. And he has not even suggested that there will be attempts to determine and thereby to introduce same-sex schools to foster improved performance amongst boys. In this era of increased knowledge, our political leaders must talk sense and this means sharing details and not engaging in sheer rhetoric and bald empty promises. The leader must have credibility of ideas and must recognize that there are intelligent Bahamians who will dissect ideas to ensure that they follow a pattern of logic and commonsense.
On the other hand, Hubert Ingraham boasts that he is a doer, and that Christie is a mere talker. This descriptive analogy of the two was made during the recent debate on the rules to govern the multimillion dollar straw market. Well, truth is that the PLP didn’t build the market in its term (2002 to 2007), notwithstanding the fact that the profile of a straw vendor is expected to be a PLP supporter or sympathizer. For some voters, Ingraham’s characterization of Christie bears truth. Ingraham though is no angel. He has some challenges in his style of governance. In this era of informed-participation, the Bahamian people expect a leader who can make decisions but who is also prepared to engage the electorate in national conversations and constructive dialogue.
Additionally, the Bahamian people expect a leader who has a vision for the country that is beyond a five-year cycle. Both the PLP and the FNM have published limited manifestos or action agendas that only set out their promises for a single term in office. Cassius Stuart, when he was leader of the Bahamas Democratic Movement (BDM) (I struggled to remember the party’s name), often spoke of a national development plan spanning beyond 10 years. He was dead right and on point. None of our current leaders understand this. They are lazy dreamers. They are not long-term planners and they have no sense that they are called upon to lead a people. Sir Lynden Pindling was masterful at this. He shared a vision and a plan. You could close your eyes and see where you or your children could be in 10 or 20 years. He campaigned on a message that gave goosebumps because it revealed a future that was far beyond one’s own imagination. He forced people to think of themselves, of better, of the future as a success for them, and for our nation as having an untapped potential. He was a visionary par excellence. But, Christie and Ingraham have failed their teacher. They have brought our local politics to a five-year plan – shortsighted, easy and small achievements, no large plan that transcends generations and that causes for a transformation in our thinking and our individual approaches. And as a result, the country and her people are stagnated in a fixed circle of small and meaningless achievements and potential and we are being dragged down a road of a hopeless and less rewarding future.
What is now needed is leadership on ideas
The Bahamas is at the stage that we require a new league of leaders. Where are the Lynden Pindlings, Arthur Hannas and men like Arthur Foulkes and Stafford Sands (yes I called his name) of this century and time? Where are the men of vision who are prepared to try new things and prepared to think big? Where are the thinkers, the dreamers?
I believe that there is an abundance of talented and visionary (should I say young) leaders in this country. But they are shy of the profound silliness that occurs in the political process. They do not propose to worship mediocre leaders who are frightened to recognize that their time has come and gone. They too are not so naive to believe that the presence of one of them on the stage signals a dramatic change in our politics. They are convinced that far too many Bahamians do not wish to be ‘saved’ from the idiosyncrasies of a political system that favors and graduates the corrupt and the fool. So, they retreat to a solemn place of thinking, analysis and private conversations where their frustrations are felt in every word and their passion for a better future is unmatched and unsurpassed by anyone in elected office.
There should be a recognition that we need them now; that they must step forth and be the promoters of ideas and of sound thinking. Our country’s current path mandates that they step forth with boldness and with a passion to serve the people, not a political party or an undeserving and ill-prepared leader, but the people. But then they look in the mirror and see a face of discontent and of a hypocrisy that they once criticized. And then they realize their presence whilst critical will not change the current dispensation because there are far too many ‘unbelievers’ on the stage who demand prominence and in whose hands lay the guided trust of the same undeserving leader, and so they smartly retreat.
So, the question remains where are our new visionary leaders?
I am sure that it is a matter of choice. Do you step forth and be a part of the push towards a sensible solution for the national good even if it means that your voice will stand alone? Or do you play a role outside of politics to compel those in office to recognize that they are not ‘gods’ but servants of the people who are subject to public criticism and scrutiny? They must follow the path that will be true to the Bahamian people and that will lead to a more fair and just nation. This means that there must be a willingness by all Bahamians to openly speak about our future and to chart a course that guarantees our collective and national development towards a future that is progressive and prosperous for the vast majority of Bahamians; not just the white Bay Street or the small black elite.
Our course must be to deepen our economic opportunities to ensure that there are no glass ceilings and an economic elevator that goes freely to all floors landing some on paths of surpassed economic expectations and that allows others to flow to the top based on their commitment to hard work, creativity, non-discriminatory access to capital and a nation that rewards its best and brightest.
These are not easy goals, yet they are all attainable if we work together to craft a national resolve to discipline, hard work and industry. The standards of mediocrity must be buried and in its place must shine a national call to sacrifice, to ‘We-ism’ and a unified commitment to pursue a vision, and its clearly defined course, that provides a better future for our people. This is hard work. But we must pursue it to fulfill the hopes, vision and the expectations of our forefathers and foremothers.
Pindling, like Martin Luther King Jr. who dreamed of a better America, dreamed of a better Bahamas for all Bahamians. In his lifetime, he achieved much for his people and he lived long enough to know that we still had much ‘land to possess’. If he was alive I am sure that he would be demanding a return to national excellence and would be exhorting all of us to not rest on our laurels but to continue to uphold the old Bahamian traditions of sacrifice and hard work. For me, Pindling remains an inspiration for what can be achieved with great and visionary leadership, called and inspired by God.
I remain hopeful that this present course that we are on will end when the two leaders of the FNM and the PLP will look in the mirror and say to themselves ‘I have done my part, time for me to leave this office and pass the baton to those who are ready to lead and to usher in a new era of great and visionary leadership’. I often wonder if they ever look into the mirror and hear loud voices ringing in their heads, not cries of exhortations but of despair and a dying hope. Perhaps we should stand in their paths with our individual mirrors so that they can hear our loud voices, so that they can do what honorable men are expected to do in such times of crisis and national yearning.
My mirror is always in my pocket waiting and hoping for that moment when I will see them so that the process can begin of bringing about a new era of our politics, one based on vision, a progressive agenda and leadership of substance over style, dance moves and empty rhetoric. Where is your mirror? Is it ready for a generational change in our nation’s leadership? I hope so. This boat is sinking.
Writer’s Note: It is a fact that in the PLP cabinet of 2002 to 2007, no minister was under the age of 40 years. The same cannot be true of other administrations after Independence, including that of Ingraham. There were three PLP cabinet ministers in the PLP government in 2002 who were under the age of 45 in 2002 at the time of their appointment. This corrects an error that appeared in Part I.
Raynard Rigby is a practicing attorney-at-law and he is a former national chairman of the Progressive Liberal Party (Nov. 2002-Feb. 2008). He is the author of “A Blueprint for the Future of The Bahamas” (July, 2008) and “The Urgency for Change in the PLP” (2009). He remains an avid commentator on matters of national interest and importance.